Adaptation and mitigation work hand-in-hand in Latin American forests

BOGOR, Indonesia (16 August, 2011)_The long held view that adaptation and mitigation are mutually exclusive approaches for reducing the impacts of climate change has been questioned in a recent study, with the beginnings of an integrative approach in many forestry projects in Latin America showing improved outcomes at the local level.
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Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

BOGOR, Indonesia (16 August, 2011)_The long held view that adaptation and mitigation are mutually exclusive approaches for reducing the impacts of climate change has been questioned in a recent study, with the beginnings of an integrative approach in many forestry projects in Latin America showing improved outcomes at the local level.

“Few climate change or forest policies address the linkages possible between adaptation and mitigation in the forestry sector. But in many ways, adaptation activities can increase the success of mitigation activities. Adaptation focuses on local issues, provides benefits at the local scale, and shows faster results in reducing the vulnerability of communities,” said CIFOR and CIRAD scientist Bruno Locatelli, lead author of the study published recently in Forests.

Adaptation (reducing the impacts of climate change) and mitigation (reducing the sources of carbon emissions) have been treated as two distinct approaches to climate change, with global negotiations and policies often focusing more on mitigation than adaptation.

While there is some contention as to whether adaptation and mitigation strategies should be pursued simultaneously, according to Locatelli, there is a need to explore the linkages, trade-offs and synergies between these two options in order to understand their important roles in forest ecosystems.

Locatelli and his team have been investigating the approaches to, and reasons for including adaptation in mitigation projects (and vice versa) in Latin America to see whether mainstreaming such an integration is feasible.

In northern Peru, the German Company for International Cooperation’s (GTZ) Project AdapCC has collaborated with an association of coffee producers to identify strategies to adapt to climate change. Agroforestry in coffee production zones and upstream reforestation are expected to reduce the impacts of climate change on coffee production by improving water regulation and soil fertility, and reducing landslides and erosion.

At the same time, the project is mitigating climate change by enhancing carbon stocks in the landscape. A contract has been struck with an international fair-trade company based in the UK, which will buy carbon credits to offset its own emissions. Ten per cent of this funding will be reinvested into adaptation measures for coffee plantations. Similar approaches are being promoted in Nicaragua and Mexico.

“Projects like this one in Peru are great examples of how adaptation and mitigation activities can support each other for even better results,” said Locatelli.

The study found no mitigation initiatives in Latin America have explicitly considered community adaptation; however, many of them have the potential to do so because they already attend to community development and socioeconomic impacts. It would not take much extra effort to expand the objectives to include adapting communities to climate change.

Similarly, many adaptation initiatives in Latin America are contributing to conserving ecosystems, and therefore to storing carbon and mitigating climate change. A strong example is a project aiming to improve water management and reduce water problems for the poor in the Honduras capital region of Tegucigalpa. The project identifies deforestation as an issue for the city’s water supply, and so will conserve and restore a massive 60,000 hectares of biological corridors as a climate change adaptation measure.

The Honduras project clearly contributes to mitigation goals, but as with so many Latin American adaptation projects, the contribution is not made explicit. Simply doing so could open up new funding opportunities through carbon markets or from donors interested in projects with both local and global benefits.

“Of course there are many complimentary things that could be done to maximise the possibilities for integration. For example, national and international policies could include adaptation in national guidelines and approval procedures,” said Locatelli.

This has serious implications for REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) project progression. Latin American countries are well represented in the REDD debate with Peru and Brazil among the three countries in the world with the highest number of REDD+ pilot projects.

“If a forest is having trouble adapting to the changing climate, its ability to sequester carbon can be severely limited, which means the REDD+ project will not achieve its objectives,” said Locatelli. “Similarly, if the changing climate means crops need to move into areas that are currently forested to be profitable, communities will increase deforestation to cope.”

“However if there are strategies in place to help forests and communities to adapt to climate change so that they are less vulnerable, REDD projects will be far more sustainable, and carbon sequestration more permanent.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that mitigation projects need adaptation for increasing the sustainability and legitimacy of carbon projects and adaptation projects need mitigation for harnessing more funding opportunities from carbon mechanisms.

“The extra effort to integrate adaptation and mitigation is more than worthwhile. The best part of this linkage is that everybody wins: local, national and international communities. It isn’t possible all the time, but when it works it really works.”

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